Equality of outcome

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Equality of outcome, also known as equality of condition, is a form of egalitarianism which seeks to reduce or eliminate differences in material condition between individuals or households in a society. This usually means equalizing income and/or total wealth to some degree.

In theory, equality of outcome can be distinguished from equal opportunity. Outcomes can usually be measured with a great degree of precision, opportunities cannot. That is why many proponents of equal opportunity use measures of equality of outcome to judge success. To the extent that inequalities can be passed from one generation to another through substantial gifts and wealth inheritance, it is unclear that equality of opportunity for children can be achieved without greater equality of outcome for parents. Moreover, access and opportunity to various social institutions is partially dependent on equality of outcome. Proponents recognize that greater equality of outcome can be a force preventing co-optation of non-economic institutions important to social control and policy formation, such as the legal system, media or the electoral process, by individuals and coalitions of wealthy people.

A progressive taxation system is likely to increase equality of outcome, and so is a welfare state. However, these will tend only to reduce social inequality, not eliminate it entirely. A much further reduction in social inequality is the goal of most forms of socialism.

Greater equality of outcome is likely to reduce relative poverty, leading to a more cohesive society. Advocation of greater equality reducing relative poverty is not in contradiction with a position advocating raising living standards absolutely; in other words, it is not construed by its advocates as necessitating an impingement on overall economic growth, just distribution. One of the professed virtues of progressive taxation is that it can put money into the pockets of the sections of the populace with the most propensity to spend (workers and the poor), leading to economic growth driven by high aggregate demand. Among critics, some believe that equality may damage incentives to work harder, and that the standard of living of the poorest in absolute terms is more important than their relative position; and some, whose thoughts are commonly associated with aristocratic and elitist traditions, disagree with the concept of equality of outcome on philosophical grounds.

A related argument is often encountered in education and more specifically in the debates on the grammar school in the United Kingdom and in the debates on gifted education in various countries. According to that argument, people by nature have differing levels of ability and initiative which lead some to achieve better outcomes than others. Therefore, it is considered impossible to ensure equality of outcome without imposing inequality of opportunity. Advocates of equality of outcome usually respond with the argument that it is society which makes it easier for some individuals to surpass others, and that the natural differences between people are merely a matter of different people being better at different activities, rather than some being overall superior to others.

John Rawls, in his A Theory of Justice, developed a "second principle of justice" that economic and social inequalities can only be justified if they benefit all of society, especially its most disadvantaged members. Furthermore, all economically and socially privileged positions must be open to all people equally. Rawls argues that the inequality between a doctor's salary and a grocery clerk's is only acceptable if this is the only way to encourage the training of sufficient numbers of doctors, preventing an unacceptable decline in the availability of medical care (which would therefore disadvantage everyone).

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Equality of outcome

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